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📌 The world’s highest-profile moderators

The week in content moderation - edition #63

A big welcome to another Everything in Moderation, especially to new faces from Sorbonne Universite, Neva Labs and Euractiv. Others that made it here via Marianne’s very kind shoutout, you’re particularly welcome. Do hit reply to say hello and tell me a bit about what you’re currently working on. I'd like that.

This week was all about the announcement of the members of Facebook’s new Oversight Board, which felt like a content moderation watcher’s version of the NFL draft. I’ve rounded up the best links for you.

Stay safe and thanks for reading — BW

🛤 Finally, on Board

This week, almost exactly 18 months after Mark Zuckerberg outlined his vision for content governance, the world found out who would sit on Facebook’s much-hyped Oversight Board.

These 20 people — attorneys, journalists, politicians, digital rights experts, authors and others — have committed to a three-year term (with a maximum of three terms) and will now set to work making binding decisions on what content Facebook and Instagram should allow or remove. They are, in a sense, the world’s highest-profile moderators.

It’s too early to say whether the Board will be successful (or what success even looks like). The test will be when the first appeal is reviewed and we start to get answers to big questions — namely, does the Charter hold up to scrutiny? Does the process end satisfactorily? Is 90 days too much or too little time to make a decision? And will Facebook respect the Board’s decisions? (They are not bound to in some cases).

The coverage has, as expected, been extensive, generated in part by a well-honed PR strategy that has leveraged the profile of Board members as well as reaction and response from tech and free speech commentators and activists. Here's a selection:

By them

  • The four Board co-chairs wrote an op-ed for the New York Times emphasising its independence and transparency.
  • Alan Rusbridger, the former editor of The Guardian, says 'there are no excuses for not trying’ to make the Oversight Board work in a piece for OneZero.
  • Nic Suzor, a law professor at QUT, stresses in this thread that the Board is ‘an experiment and a work in progress’.
  • John Samples told Politico’s Morning Tech that any kind of interference could be ‘a real repetitional problem for Facebook’.
  • Endy Bayuni, a senior editor at Jakarta Post, writes about his appointment in the paper he helps to edit.

About them

  • A broad read in Wired on what the Board does, who’s on it and what its limitations are.
  • The NYT's Kara Swisher says the Board has ‘all the hallmarks of the United Nations, except potentially much less effective'.
  • The New York Post, meanwhile, called it ‘a recipe for left-wing censorship’ while Daily Dot rounded up a bunch of irate Republican tweeters claiming it wasn't politically representative.
  • Siva Vaidhyanathan, a media professor that wrote a book on Facebook, called the board ‘greenwashing’ in this Guardian piece.
  • David Kaye, whose job title at the UN I always wish was shorter, writes about what the makeup of the 20 member-Board could mean for the future of Facebook.
  • Ranking Rights director Rebecca MacKinnon’s thread suggests the new body ‘may do more to boost Mark Zuckerberg’s power than constrain it'.

Facebook is still planning to appoint another 20 members to the board (you can recommend yourself or someone else) so there's plenty more to be written in the coming months. No doubt I'll cover it here in EiM.

PS I made a list of 16 of the Oversight Board members that are on Twitter. Follow it, if you like.

🎧 Background beats

If the Oversight Board is a new concept to you (or like me, it's a been so long in the making, you've forgotten much of it), I highly recommend this thread from Evelyn Douek, a Harvard scholar who has been researching the concept for some time.

You might also like this earlier edition of EiM (#44, What does $130 get Facebook?) but I won't hold it against you if you don't.

⏰ Not forgetting...

Mozilla has published a neat report with six stories about the limitations of current moderation practices (also contains some great additional reads).

Mozilla Foundation - When Content Moderation Hurts

Six stories to inspire better regulation.

Tumblr retrospectively removed 4.7m reblogs in order to halt the speed of supremacist content on its platform.

Tumblr will now remove all reblogs of posts that violate its hate speech policy - The Verge

Tumblr on Monday announced an update to its hate speech policy, announcing on its blog that it would start cutting down on the reach of posts considered hate speech by removing all reblogs of terminated content. Tumblr says it’s specifically targeting speech from Nazis and other white supremacist groups.

I haven’t got around to reading this yet but I wanted to include it anyway: the Knight First Amendment Institute published a paper on the lessons of history for social media regulation.

Social Media Regulation in the Public Interest: Some Lessons from History | Knight First Amendment Institute

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